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Youngest footballers in men’s FIFA World Cup: Norman Whiteside leads list of wonderkids!

Brazilian legend Pele is the fifth youngest player to feature in a FIFA World Cup. Three of the 10 all-time youngest players are playing at Qatar 2022.

4 min By Ali Asgar Nalwala
norman whiteside cropped

The best footballing nations around the world are always looking to infuse youthful energy into their squads. Some even show faith and bring them onto the biggest stage at the FIFA World Cup.

The FIFA World Cup 2022 itself has three of the 10 all-time youngest footballers to play in a World Cup. Spain’s Gavi, Australia’s Garang Kuol, and Youssoufa Moukoko of Germany are just over 18 and have featured in their respective nation’s opening matches in Qatar.

While pressure is hard to manage at a young age, these footballers took the challenge head-on to become the youngest FIFA World Cup players.

Youngest footballers to play in Men’s FIFA World Cup

No.Player AgeEdition
1Norman Whiteside (Northern Ireland)17 years, 40 daysSpain 1982
2Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon) 17 years, 98 daysFrance 1998
3Femi Opabunmi (Nigeria)17 years, 100 daysSouth Korea-Japan 2002
4Salomon Olembe (Cameroon)17 years, 184 daysFrance 1998
5Pele (Brazil)17 years, 234 daysSweden 1958
6Bartholomew Ogbeche (Nigeria)17 years, 244 daysSouth Korea-Japan 2002
7Rigobert Song (Cameroon) 17 years, 353 daysUSA 1994
8Youssoufa Moukoko (Germany)18 years, 3 daysQatar 2022
9Garang Kuol (Australia)18 years, 69 daysQatar 2022
10Gavi (Spain) 18 years, 110 daysQatar 2022

Norman Whiteside, Northern Ireland - 17 years and 40 days

Northern Ireland’s Norman Whiteside is the youngest footballer to play at the FIFA World Cup. The striker was 17 years and 40 days old when he made his World Cup debut against Yugoslavia in 1982.

Norman Whiteside could not become the youngest footballer to score at the FIFA World Cup as the game ended in a goalless draw. However, the Manchester United forward was given a caution which made him the youngest player to receive a yellow card in the FIFA World Cup.

Whiteside’s career was marred by injuries and played his last international match at the age of 26. He featured in 38 international matches, scoring nine goals for Northern Ireland.

Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon - 17 years and 98 days

Cameroon’s all-time leading goal scorer Samuel Eto’o is the second youngest to make a bow in the men’s World Cup at the age of 17 years and 98 days. He made his debut in Cameroon’s 3-0 loss to Italy in the 1998 FIFA World Cup group stage match in France.

Samuel Eto’o would go on to represent Cameroon in four FIFA World Cups and scored 56 international goals in 116 internationals. He retired in 2014.

Femi Opabunmi, Nigeria - 17 years, 100 days

Femi Opabunmi was the second-highest goal-scorer in the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Championships which earned him a call in Nigeria’s senior national side the following year.

The Nigerian winger was 17 years and 100 days old when he made his World Cup debut against England in 2002. However, Femi Opabunmi never played for Nigeria again. He retired four years later after glaucoma left him blind in his right eye.

Salomon Olembe, Cameroon - 17 years, 184 days

Cameroon’s Salomon Olembe is fourth on the list of youngest footballers to play in the FIFA World Cup.

Olembe made his debut in Cameroon’s 1998 FIFA World Cup opener against Austria when he was 17 years and 184 days old. He was then the youngest African to feature in football’s biggest event.

However, his record lasted for just a couple of matches as his compatriot Samuel Eto’o made his debut in Cameroon’s last match at the 1998 World Cup against England a few days later.

Pele, Brazil - 17 years, 234 days

Unlike many who feature in the list of youngest footballers at the World Cup, Pele actually went on to score a goal on his World Cup debut when he was 17 years and 239 days old. It was the quarter-final match against Wales in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

Pele’s triple strike in Brazil’s 5-2 win against France in the semi-finals made him the youngest footballer to score a World Cup hat-trick. Pele created more records in the final when he scored a brace in Brazil’s 5-2 win over hosts Sweden to become the youngest player to play and score in a football World Cup final. He also became the youngest FIFA World Cup winner at the end.

Pele was part of the Brazilian teams that won the 1962 and 1970 FIFA World Cups. He retired in 1971 after scoring 77 goals in just 92 international matches.

Youngest footballer to play in a FIFA Women’s World Cup

Ifeanyi Chiejine, Nigeria - 16 years and 34 days

Nigeria’s Ifeanyi Chiejine is the youngest footballer to play in the FIFA Women’s World Cup at the age of 16 years and 34 days. She made her debut against North Korea in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup and went on to play in the 2003 and 2007 editions as well. She also featured in Nigeria’s Olympic campaigns in 2000 and 2008.

The Nigerian striker retired after the Beijing 2008 Olympics. She died in August 2019 at the age of 36 due to an illness.

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